WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The IRS is getting pressured to begin cracking down on televangelists following a John Oliver segment on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”
Oliver blasted televangelists this past Sunday for what he called “seed faith,” where they tell donors they will reap the rewards by giving money to them.
“They preach something called the prosperity gospel which argues that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and donations will result in wealth coming back to you. That idea sometimes takes the form of seed faith – the notion that donations are seeds that you will one day get to harvest,” Oliver said in the segment.
He continued, “The argument is ‘sow your money into the ground, you will reap returns multiple times over,’ except as an investment you’d be better off burying your money in the actual ground because at least that way there’s a chance your dog may dig it up and give it back to you one day.”
People have donated millions to televangelists through the “prosperity gospel,” believing by giving money, God will help them.
“They keep trying to send more money, more money, more money so they can get healed,” Trinity Foundation president Ole Anthony, whose group investigates religious fraud, told CBS News.
Anthony explained to CBS News that televangelists are able to receive millions because the IRS has turned a “blind eye” to their tax-exempt churches.
“A few years ago, the IRS named Scientology a church. Since that happened, anybody can call themselves a church,” Anthony said.
CBS News reports the IRS only conducted three church audits from 2013 to 2014 after suspending them completely from 2009 to 2013.
“You are always going to find abuses and excesses in the non-profit community, and even in the church world,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Erik Stanley told CBS News.
He added, “There is no surer way to destroy that free exercise of religion than to begin to tax it.”
Oliver set up his own church called “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption” to prove his point.
“Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption will not be able to accept donations from Church supporters from the states of Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, or South Carolina. We apologize for any inconvenience. Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption may choose to wind down and dissolve in the near future,” the website states. “Upon dissolution, any assets belonging to the Church at that time will be distributed to Doctors Without Borders, a non-proﬁt charitable organization that is tax-exempt under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (EIN: 13-3433452) and which provides emergency medical aid in places where it is needed most.”
The IRS did not comment to CBS News about the story.